When you see someone confined to a wheelchair, walking with crutches, wearing visible hearing aids, or any other obvious physical handicap, you know right away that this person is plagued with a disability. However, a large percentage of disabled Americans have a disability that is considered invisible. Invisible disabilities include problems like depression, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and learning disabilities. While any disability is accompanied by an unimaginable number of problems that make everyday activities more difficult, invisible disabilities make life, and employment, even harder. Many times, employers or coworkers will not believe that the disability exists because there is no external evidence. This is an issue because if your employer is not convinced of their employees’ disability, they may be hesitant or refuse to accommodate their employee at all. Without the appropriate accommodations, someone with a disability may not be able to be an efficient and effective employee.
People with invisible disabilities also have to deal with the issue of when and if to disclose their illness to their employer. Many are unsure if they should make their potential employer aware of their health status during the hiring process, or after. While disclosing a disability may be essential for some to receive accommodations that enable them to do their job, telling an employer about a health issue may also come with cons. Explaining a disability automatically makes a person vulnerable to potential judgement and a decrease in what others perceive them to be capable of. Just because someone has a disability, it does not mean that they are any less able to do the same jobs as those without physical or mental handicaps. In fact, disability can be a huge motivator for someone to want to succeed in their career even more, and to prove to themselves and others that their disability is not going to hold them back.
Victims of invisible disabilities also face the struggle of being acknowledged for having a disability, and working through it. For example, a person with fibromyalgia can look perfectly healthy from the outside, so one would assume that there is nothing wrong with them, even though fibromyalgia patients often suffer from chronic pain throughout their entire body. This constant state of pain can inhibit a person from lifting things, moving too much, or any other everyday activities. But since they look healthy, it can be hard for others to believe that they are actually suffering, and not just making their condition up for sympathy. This can lead to discrimination and judgement in the workplace. A discriminatory workplace can be uncomfortable for all involved, and cause employees to not work to their potential, or not want to continue working there at all.
When a person’s disability is not apparent, it can cause them to be unconfident in their ability to ask for accommodations that they need to be comfortable. It is not uncommon for someone to doubt the authenticity of an illness when it is not apparent, and for them to reject giving aid and instead to lash out at the person asking for help.
For example, someone with an invisible disability may park in a handicap parking spot, and to others it may seem as though they are taking the spot from someone who actually needs it, even though they are handicapped themselves. Because of this, disabled people often shy away from requesting help, making life and activities that should be easy much less manageable.
These issues need to be addressed in order to normalize invisible disabilities in the workplace, and everywhere else, and to make victims of these illnesses more comfortable and confident in talking about their health issues. The first step to doing this is to recognize invisible illnesses more, and to raise awareness about how much these symptoms can affect peoples’ daily lives.